Inman, Henry. Rip Van Winkle Awakening from his Long Sleep, 1823. National Gallery of Art, gift of William and Abigail Gerdts. Public Domain.
A long “nap”
Unlike Rip van Winkle, I haven’t been asleep the whole time since our previous post. But we are well overdue for new blog material. I’ve got a big backlog of documents and images to share with you; all I need to do is get writing. But first…
Be sure to vote today!
It’s election day today, and your vote counts. If you haven’t already done so, get out of the house, over to your polling place, and vote. Voting is your right and responsibility as a citizen, and an indispensable element of our nation since the earliest days of the Republic.
Not surprisingly, voting and public service were an important part of life in the Clark House era. From 1840 onward, Jonathan M. Clark, Peter Turck, William T. Bonniwell and many other relatives and neighbors sought, and won, appointment or election to a wide variety of local, territorial and state offices. Voting—then limited to white males only—was a priority for Mequon’s early settlers, and they never failed to turn out in large numbers for each election. Their passion for civic engagement and electoral politics was, in turn, passed to the next generation.
I had a fine day last month walking through our state’s wonderful outdoor living history museum, Old World Wisconsin, where I enjoyed this familiar view:
Photo credit: Reed Perkins, 2022.
There among the trees stood Milwaukee’s old St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, a building that was certainly well-known—at least on the exterior—to our Clark and Turck families.
The church was built in 1839, two years after young Mary Turck arrived in Wisconsin Territory with her parents, Peter and Rachael (Gay) Turck and her six siblings, and the same year that Jonathan M. Clark and the Bonniwell family first appeared in the Milwaukee-Mequon area.
UPDATE, Nov. 30, 2022: The discussion of the William Bonniwell signatures and dates, below, is not correct. I have lined-through the incorrect paragraph and added the correct info in two new paragraphs below the original misinformation.
It may not look like much on the outside. It’s old. Not very big. Whole pages are missing, others are damaged. The binding is worn.
Bonniwell Bible, front cover. Photo credit: Kendalyne Gentile, 2022
But this modest book was—for over 300 years—the family Bible for Mequon’s pioneer Bonniwell family, their ancestors and descendants. And last month, the Bible’s most recent owner, Bonniwell descendant Kendalyne Gentile, generously gave the Bible and other Bonniwell family documents to the Jonathan Clark House Museum where they will form an important part of our permanent collection.
Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time looking through digitized historical newspapers, trying to fill in some of the missing pieces of the Clark House story. In the process, I’ve managed to discover some unique and important information about the Clarks, Turcks, Bonniwells and their neighbors. And I’ve also run into a lot of off-topic but fascinating tidbits about daily life in Wisconsin during the Clarks’ era, such as this random bit of history:
Hello, readers! Sorry for the long blog silence. I hope you are well.
It’s been a busy summer at my house, filled with the usual demands of job, summer garden chores, lots of behind-the-scenes history research and, alas, an unexpectedly large number of mundane but unavoidable tasks, most of which are now behind me.
I have a backlog of half-written posts to finish and share with you. In the meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this photo.
Cedar Creek, looking north from the Columbia Road bridge, Cedarburg, Wisconsin. Photo credit: Reed Perkins, July, 2022.
The view looks north along Cedar Creek from near the historic Cedarburg Mill, about two miles north of the Jonathan Clark House. Turn off the electric lights, and this is a view that the Clark family would have known well.
Our last two posts focused on the evidence we have that documents the Bonniwell family’s two-part trip west to the gold fields of California: by the Panama shortcut in 1849 and by the overland route in 1850. Today I’d like to focus on the members of Bonniwell company after the end of their westward voyage(s), and give you a sense of their experiences as newly-arrived prospectors in the California gold diggings through period drawings, lithographs, photographs, and a substantial excerpt from the Bonniwell Gold Rush diary.1
Currier & Ives. Gold mining in California. California, ca. 1871. New York: Published by Currier & Ives. Library of Congress. As always, click the images to open larger versions in new window.
This colorful Currier & Ives lithograph presents a somewhat idyllic view of “Gold Mining in California” as imagined in 1871 by a New York artist who, most likely, had never been west of the Alleghenies. On the one hand, the lithograph does give us an hint of the splendors of the Sierra Nevada, and some idea of the typical activities of California miners. But as we’ll see, life in gold country when the Bonniwell party arrived—in the early, frenzied days of 1849 and 1850—was much less bucolic.
“Working the bar”
Much of early California gold prospecting involved looking for smaller and larger bits of gold found within the loose alluvial soils and sediments of the rivers and dry riverbeds of the Sierra Nevada. In particular, the miners spent a lot of time “working the bar.” And no, my fellow Wisconsinites, this does not mean they were strenuously pub-crawling in El Dorado county, circa 1849-1850.
A new edition of our annual Memorial Day post. Previous versions published in 2020 and 2021.
UPDATED: May 30, 2022 to correct a few typos and minor errors.
Graves of Unknown Union Soldiers, Memphis National Cemetery, photo by Clayton B. Fraser, (Library of Congress), public domain. Memphis National Cemetery is the final resting place of Mequon’s Watson Peter Woodworth, and almost 14,000 of his Union Army comrades.
Today is the day our nation officially observes Memorial Day. For many Americans, Memorial Day represents “the first day of summer,” and is traditionally celebrated with trips to the lake, picnics, parades, and sales on cars, appliances, and other consumer goods.
But for many of us, Memorial Day remains rooted in its origins as Decoration Day. The first national observance was in 1868, when retired general John A. Logan, commander and chief of the Grand Army of the Republic—the Union veterans’ organization—issued his General Order Number 11, designating May 30 as a memorial day “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.”
On this Memorial Day, let’s take a moment to remember what this day truly represents.
I’m feeling a bit under the weather today, so Clark House research will have to wait. Fortunately, I’ve had my shots, so it looks like the usual advice of bed rest, fluids, and such should be all I need. If not, perhaps a swig of a potion like Dr. C. V. Girard’s Ginger Brandy will do the trick.
Dr. C.Y. Girard’s ginger brandy, for sale here / lith. of Robertson, Seibert & Shearman, 93 Fulton St. New York. , ca. 1860. New York: Robertson, Seibert & Shearman, 93 Fulton St. Library of Congress. Click to open larger image in new window.
After all, it’s “A Certain Cure for Cholera Colic Cramps Dysentery, Chills & Fever” and “is a delightful and healthy beverage.” Ya can’t beat that!
Of course, if Dr. Girard’s Ginger Brandy doesn’t help, there were so many other elixirs to choose from during the pre-Pure Food and Drug Act era, such as…